When Pope Francis stages his next big canonization ceremony on Sept. 4, the star of the show will be Mother Teresa, the legendary “Apostle of the Poor” who stands as one of the most iconic Catholic figures of the 20th century.
An important member of the supporting cast that day, however, will be Marcilio Haddad Andrino, a Brazilian who’s what the Italians call the miracolato – the person who experienced a miracle attributed to the saint’s intercession, in this case a miraculous recovery from brain abscesses in December 2008.
The recovery occurred after his wife, Fernanda Nascimento Rocha, prayed to Mother Teresa for help as she watched her husband clinging to life.
Andrino recovered, and later the couple was able to have two children despite medical advice that their possibility of conceiving naturally stood at one percent. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Missionaries of Charity priest who serves as the postulator for the cause, called it a second miracle.
In May, Andrino and Rocha sat down to talk about their experience with David Van Biema, a veteran U.S. journalist with Time and the Religion News Service.
A story based on this transcript forms a chapter of Mother Teresa: A Modern Saint by David Van Biema. The 96-page, beautifully illustrated book from TIME Inc., has been reissued with new material on Teresa’s second miracle and on her relationship with Pope Francis. It’s available here via Amazon and on newsstands now.
The following is part two of an edited transcript of Van Biema’s conversation with Rocha and Andrino, which appears courtesy of Time. The first installment was published on Crux Friday, August 19.
Van Biema: Fernanda, what was the last thing Marcilio said to you before he went into the coma?
He asked that I would pray for him, and that all his family and friends should pray to Mother Teresa, so she could heal him.
What did the doctors tell you would happen?
They didn’t know what was happening. They already knew about the abscesses, but they had no firm reasons for them. So they wanted to run new tests.
Did they suggest he might not survive?
Not directly. They didn’t say anything directly. But when Marcilio was not responding to any treatments, the nurses and medical team already had that suspicion.
Was he given last rites?
Yes, plans had been made for him to receive the Anointing of the Sick. So Father Elmiran (pastor of Fernanda’s congregation, Our Lady of Aperecida) came to the hospital and, seeing all that was happening, gave him the extreme anointing. Not because he thought he was going to die, but that’s a rite that is given to someone who is extremely sick.
Did you say goodbye to him?
No, I did not say goodbye. I always trusted that God was going to do the right thing at the right time, and that Mother Teresa would begin his healing at the right time. I did not say goodbye. I had faith. Saying goodbye would mean that God and Mother Teresa would not help us at the right time.
When I was young the priest in my church was very direct, and he said something that has stuck with me forever: “Those who have faith have no doubts.”
What was the worst moment?
It was actually the worst moment, and the best moment.
When Marcilio went to the operating room, the doctor said he was going to have to go through surgery, but the anesthesiologist did not want to provide anesthesia because he said Marcilio would not survive that. And so that was the worst moment, because I realized that medicine could not do anything for Marcilio.
It was the best moment because I realized that this was outside of the control of men, and it was totally in God’s hands and in Mother Teresa’s hands.
I understand that at this point, when other people might have given up, you went somewhere and prayed to Mother Teresa. Where did you go? Why did you leave the hospital?
I prayed at the hospital as soon as we got this notification about surgery. First I prayed to God and then to Mother Teresa. I prayed that God would cure and heal Marcilio. And if he couldn’t be cured, that Mother Teresa would escort him to the eternal dwelling of the Almighty, so that he could safely return.
And then I ended up having to leave the hospital, because the ICU didn’t allow companions to stay overnight. I went home to my mother’s house.
You said the same prayer there?
Yes, the same prayer.
Was your mother praying as well?
My family prayed with me before. But this time my mom didn’t pray with me; she was upset and kept herself busy with us, as every mother does. I got to her place and was hugged by my sisters. I went to take a shower and went to pray in the bedroom, begging Mother Teresa to heal Marcilio.
I understand that you had the prayer book and the relic from the Missionaries of Charity.
Yes, we had them in our possession the whole time, and when Marcilio left the room I kept the relic.
What was your thought process at the time? Did you speak to Mother Teresa personally about the situation? What did you tell her? Did you feel her as present?
Yes, we’ve always felt her presence with us. It was a feeling of peace and comfort and love.
Marcilio, can you remember when you woke up?
Andrino: Yes, before being admitted I had a very strong headache, and I blanked. And then I wake up and I’m in a different place, and I don’t have any more headache, so I’m like, ‘what am I doing here?’ And I had this feeling of peace.
Fernanda, did someone from the hospital contact you?
I went the next morning, because that’s when the medical records were generally released to family members. I went by myself. I was very happy and confident because I had not received a call in the night, and I had this faith that he would be very well.
What did you see when you got there? What did the doctors tell you?
They said the main reason he was there was the abscesses, the natural draining of fluid from his brain, which caused hydrocephaly and life-threatening pressure. But now they said the headaches had disappeared.
Because he didn’t have that horrible pain, he didn’t need to stay in the intensive care unit and he could go back to a regular room.
Did they express surprise?
Yes, they were very surprised. They didn’t have any idea of what had happened. If the headaches were no longer there, their conclusion was that the swelling and the abscesses had diminished, but they didn’t really know.
Now me, I knew. I knew that Mother Teresa had cured Marcilio.
Did you laugh? Cry? Pray?
I cried. I cried because of happiness, and contentment and joy and gratitude. I did not kneel down and pray because we were in the intensive care unit and there was no way of doing it, but I experienced a mixture of feelings of joy and happiness.
When you got to see him, what was he doing?
I saw him sitting down. I simply do not remember the first words he said to me. I believe I asked him, ‘are you okay?’ and I think he said, “Yes.” But I don’t remember.
After he was released, I left the room and called family members I had asked for prayers and told them ‘He has been healed, Mother Teresa was with Marcilio that night!’ It was not only a big miracle in his life but in all our lives.
What did Father Elmiran say?
He was extremely happy and said, ‘Fernanda, it was Mother Teresa. Didn’t I tell you she would help?”
When did you realize that your private miracle might play a role in the larger story of Mother Teresa’s cause?
Andrino: When I left the hospital Father Elmiran was able to see the whole story unfolding, and he said, ‘this happened because of Mother Teresa. Let’s write a letter to the Sisters of Charity so that they can forward it to the Vatican.’ I believe that was in 2009.
Were you nervous at appearing before the Church tribunal that arrived in August of 2015 to look into the possible miracle?
Rocha: You know, not really. The whole context of knowing that we had received a grace from God and from Mother Teresa made us reflect and brought a certainty that God is with us and that Mother Teresa is following us.
Did it not seem weird at all to be interacting with the Vatican under these circumstances?
Rocha: Perhaps it seems weird to you guys, because you’re not Catholic. It may seem weird to you because you’re not declaring your faith every day. But for us, being Catholic and declaring our faith every day and confiding with the fathers and the priests, it’s not so unusual.
Where were you when you found out the miracle had been authenticated?
Andrino: I had been traveling and I had just arrived home when the phone rang. It was one of the sisters.
How did you feel?
I was extremely happy that the miracle had been recognized, and it was a unanimous decision by the doctors and the theologians and the cardinals of the Vatican. And I was also happy that Mother Teresa was still there with me.
Did it seem as though the whole recognition process had taken a while?
For me it was fast. It was fast within what’s reasonable, what’s normal.
Father Brian [Kolodiejchuk] said it’s something of a second miracle that you were able to have children. Can you explain that?
Andrino: At the age of 19 I had a kidney transplant, and I’ve been taking cortisone since age six and immunosuppressors since age 18, and in 2008 I was put on a very strong antibiotic. And because of that the doctors said after I left the hospital, when I was fine, that ‘given the amount of medicine that Marcilio has taken, I suggest you guys consider adoption if you’re thinking of children [because] they will not be normal because of the medicine that Marcilio has taken.’
We really wanted to have children, and in 2009 I underwent a battery of tests to see that I could, and my probability of having kids was one percent.
Fernanda became pregnant in 2009. In 2010 we had a daughter. Then she had a miscarriage. And in 2012 we had another child born, so we’ve had three gestations, One did not work out. But we have two children. The children are healthy.
Rocha: Praise God!
Andrino: Murilo will be 4 on August 28, and Mariana’s birthday is February 26. She’ll be six and a half years old in August.
Have you been invited to the canonization?
Will you meet the Pope?
I would imagine so. I’ll be participating in the canonization ceremony.
Will your children come with you?
Andrino: Yes, they’ll be there too. They are very patient.
Rocha: We bring them with us to all sorts of religious events and happenings, so they know how these things work.
Is it possible to imagine that Mother Teresa is happy about all of this?
Rocha: I believe so. I believe she’s very happy. There’s a quote from Mother Teresa, in which she says, ‘When I die, if I ever become a saint, I will be the saint of the darkness. Rather than be in heaven, I would go out in the very dark nights to rescue people.’
Are you saying that you believe this is what happened with you?
Rocha: I don’t believe it. I am 100 percent sure.
And I believe that the Missionaries of Charity are happy, are radiant to hear this. Mother Teresa used to go to the place of the greatest needs; she would help the neediest of the neediest, the poorest of the poor. Therefore this is not only a grace that we have experienced, it’s a grace for everybody, for the Missionaries.
And I believe she continues to do that kind of work.
Marcilio, how is your health now?
My health is 100 percent back to normal. I am back at work. I do have some issues with balance and a little bit of double vision, but I get used to it.
Do you still pray to Mother Teresa?
Rocha: Yes, we do pray, and we do continue to pray to say thank you for this intercession. Now, more than asking, we thank her.
We thank her for the grace of life, the grace of motherhood, the fact that she continues to be with us and also with the needier ones.
We continue to visit the Sisters of Charity house in Rio, bring comfort and bring faith. I always tell people to be firm in their faith, not to doubt that God’s grace is for everybody and our children. They are with us in this, and they also go and also pray.
Do you think that the way that you live your lives and think about faith is very different now than it would have been if Marcilio had never gotten ill?
Rocha: I believe so. We went through very difficult moments with Marcilio’s disease that really have permeated our faith and have consolidated our faith. So, yes.
Do you ever ask yourselves, Why you?
Rocha: My dad suffered a horrible car accident in 1996. There was damage to his back, the medulla, The sciatic nerve was compressed and he was in pain 24 hours a day and people could hear him crying in pain from the other side of the street. I prayed that he would be healed; that he would be able to walk again, for ten years.
But I never doubted God. I never questioned, ‘Why did this happen to me, to my dad, to my family?’ When my dad passed away I still did not question God, ‘Why did You take away my dad, why did he have so much suffering?’ And right now I am not going to ask, ‘Why us?’
This is God’s will, and God is the father and He so willed it that my father would not be cured and would not be healed; and He so willed it that Marcilio would be cured and healed. When I pray the Our Father what I say is, ‘May your will be done.’ So I’m never going to say, ‘Why me?’
God’s will is something very important and very special, and it is supreme. So I’m not going to question the reasons, never, ever.